Museum of Brisbane

Top 5 illustration tips with Penelope Bell


Brisbane-based illustrator Penelope Bell will join us for a workshop this weekend to share her knowledge and talent with those eager to take up the art of illustration.

Harbouring a love for drawing since she held her first pencil at the age of three, Penelope has illustrated for a number of fashion lines and businesses.

Since taking the plunge to start her own illustration business in 2014, she facilitated a fashion illustration workshop at the Gallery of Modern Art’s (GOMA) Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion exhibition and recently partnered with the National Retail Association.

Ahead of this weekend’s workshop, we took up the chance to speak to Penelope about her top illustration tips. Here’s what she had to share:

1. Begin anywhere

“Just picking up a pencil and drawing anything, even if it is just shapes, is a good way to warm up your hand.”

We love the idea of ‘warming up’ for drawing like you would for sport, especially if it’s a movement your hand isn’t used to. Penelope also suggests enrolling in drawing classes or workshops for at least 6 weeks, which will encourage regular practise and patience as you learn.

2. Develop an ‘illustration routine’

“Allocating time, every day, to yourself to practise drawing is the only way you can improve and hone your ‘style’.

It may be a cliché, but it’s true; practise makes perfect.

3. Know the story behind the words

We asked Penelope how essential it is for an illustrator to know and understand the meaning behind the story their drawings will accompany, and she described this as a very important part of her process.

“What I try to do, as an illustrator, is to tell the ‘untold’ story through the illustration. So I will look at moods, atmospheres, emotions, etc., and try to capture the unspoken dialogue.”

4. Start with simple techniques

Even the most elaborate drawings start with simple techniques. For beginners, Penelope suggests drawing from shapes by breaking down your subject in to circles, squares, triangles etc., which is a technique she still regularly uses. She also suggests playing with line in complement to your shapes, as it can help to suggest form and movement.

Two more basic techniques worth mastering are cross hatching and scribble, both of which she says can “quickly establish shadowing, direction of light, form, movement and dimension.”

5. Trial and error

“There is always another piece of paper to draw on if you stuff up the first one. Don’t become too attached to your picture being ‘perfect’.”

Perhaps her best tip of all; enjoy the process without getting caught up on the quality of the final product.

Thanks to Penelope for sharing her time and tips! We hope you will keep them in mind this weekend and pick up a paintbrush or pen – we’ve certainly been inspired to.

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